How to Deepen Your Backbend Safely

backbend deeper

So you want to backbend deeper? I’m with you. I don’t have a naturally “bendy” back, so I have to work pretty consistently to keep my backbends good and healthy. In this post I will share with you my tips to deepen your backbend safely. In this blog post I will focus on urdhva dhanurasana or wheel pose, which is a traditional back-bending pose that shows up in most level 2+ vinyasa yoga classes.

Just remember it’s not all about the flexibility of your back. You must open up the entire front side of your body to deepen your backbends and then my friend you must practice patience and ahimsa. Don’t force yourself into a posture before your body is ready for it. If you experience any pain at all you must come out of the posture, check your alignment and then perhaps come back into the posture or choose a gentler version. Maybe you just practice restorative postures for a bit and slowly add in more strength building backbends and then begin to deepen the backbend safely.

1. Warm Up The Entire Body

This might seem like a no brainer, but seriously if you want deep backbends you must warm up the entire body, not just your back. Stretching and strengthening are of equal importance. The following postures are all excellent warm up postures; combine them with a few rounds of sun salutations and you have a complete practice to deepen your backbend safely.

2. Get Specific. Let’s Talk Postures.

When preparing for deep backbends you must consider what parts of your body will be involved; for example, in wheel pose the wrists, shoulders, back, hips/hip flexors, quads and glutes all need to be warmed up and stretched out. Core activation is also key. Using wheel pose as our example lets begin with the wrists and work our way down the body with a full body sequence to open up our front body, so we can backbend safely.

Wrists

  • Wrist circles
  • weight bearing wrist stretches from a table top pose
  • flexion/extension

Shoulders (Start gentle)

  • Shoulder circles
  • cat/cow
  • sun salutations,
  • melting heart (anahatasana),
  • downward facing dog at the wall
  • prone pectoral stretch.
  • Downward facing dog and dolphin pose
  • Add binds to your standing postures.
  • Interlace the hands behind your hips in warrior 1, practice humble warrior,
  • eagle arms in warrior 3
  • gomukhasana
  • prasarita padotanasana c (wide leg forward fold with hands clasped behind hips)

Back

  • Cat/Cow
  • Side body stretches
  • Twists
  • Cobra Pose
  • Upward Facing Dog
  • Locust Pose (perhaps add a bind)
  • Bridge pose with the hands bound.
  • Add backbends to your standing postures (anjaneyasana, crescent lunge, warrior 1). It’s important to strengthen and stretch!
  • Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose)

Hips and Hip Flexors

  • 3 legged down dog
  • Anjaneyasana (low lunge)
  • lizard pose
  • pigeon pose
  • reclining hero pose
  • King Arthur’s Pose

nicaragua-yoga-retreat-low-lunge

Quads

  • Anjaneyasana
  • Lizard pose
  • Pigeon pose
  • Reclined Hero’s pose
  • King Arthur’s Pose

Gluteals

  • Fire up your gluteals
  • Squats
  • Chair Pose
  • Lunges

Core

  • Plank Pose
  • Forearm Plank
  • You don’t need to do a ton of core, just enough to activate the muscles and get them to turn on.

3. Proper Alignment

Hand placement

In wheel pose the hands are shoulder width distance (slightly wider is okay too), wrists are parallel to the short edge of your yoga mat, middle fingers are parallel to one another and the fingertips point back toward your heels.

Feet placement

Feet are hips width distance and PARALLEL to one another. Don’t turn the feet out or take them wider.

Upper thighs

In all backbends you want to think of wrapping the upper thighs in toward one another.

Tailbone

In wheel pose think of lengthening your tailbone toward the wall behind you. This will keep you from compressing the lumbar spine. In Locust Pose, Cobra Pose, Upward Facing Dog, and Bow Pose you will also want to lengthen the tailbone toward the wall behind you. And in Camel Pose think of lengthening your tailbone down toward the floor.

Heart/Chest

Don’t let the heart drop. Always lift through the heart. Once again this will help keep you from taking the entire backbend in your lumbar spine.

Core/Lower back

Gently draw your lower abdomen in. Once again, keeping your core engaged will help protect your lower back.

4. Active and restorative backbends.

You need to practice both active and restorative backbends, so grab your block, bolster, yoga wheel… or whatever else you’ve got. It’s important to allow your body to relax into passive backbends too. Restorative and yin style backbends stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).  If you can stimulate the PNS (relaxation response) in your active backbends you’ll be golden when it’s time to do drop backs and inverted backbends.

5. Bodywork and Myofascial Release to Backbend Safely

Yes, I said it. Get yourself regular massages. Between massages I use tennis balls, or if you’re hard core or a glutton for punishment you can use lacrosse balls, to release tension in the fascia and connective tissue. Myofascial release will help create space within your entire body. Look for a roll and release class or marma point therapy class at your local yoga studio.

Lets see your backbends yogis! Tag me on Instagram @ambuja_yoga or Facebook @ambujayoga

And as always feel free to shoot me a message if you have any more questions.

Love and Light,

Autumn

Ushas Mudra

Ushas mudra is the mudra for new beginnings, alertness and the second chakra, swadisthana, at the sacrum. The second chakra is our center of sexuality and creativity. In Sanskrit, Ushas means “break of the day” or “origin of good things” hence the mudra being used for new beginnings.

ushas mudra hand mudra

To Practice Ushas Mudra

Ushas mudra can be practiced first thing in the morning to help wake the body. It is the perfect practice when you have those three “snooze button” kind of mornings. To practice ushas mudra as a female interlace your fingers placing your right thumb between the index finger and thumb of your left hand. Your left thumb gentle presses into the thumb of the right hand. Males practice ushas mudra with the fingers interlaced and the right thumb resting on top of the left thumb.

Here is my favorite way to practice the mudra: maintaining the mudra take your hands back behind your head and let the head rest heavy in the palms of the hands, then stretch the elbows out to the side. With elbows pressing back into your pillow or bed begin to deepen your breath, perhaps arch your back slightly. Take a few rounds of deep breath here and then (still maintaining the mudra) stretch your arms overhead and turn the palms away from you. Stretch the body as long as you can and point out through your toes. Take some ankle circles. Take a few rounds of breath here and when you feel energized and alert make your way out of bed.

Ushas Mudra Benefits

According to Gertrud Hirschi, “This mudra concentrates the sexual energy of our second chakra and directs it into the energy centers above it.” Ushas mudra improves mental alertness, balances our hormones and concentrates sexual energy.

Affirmation for Ushas:

I am enthusiastic about life. I enjoy life’s pleasures.

I am present and alert in all of my actions.

I embrace change and new beginnings.

Ganesha Mudra

Hello from Bali! Yogis if you ever have a chance to make it out to Bali DO IT! It’s so beautiful. I’ve already felt the energy shift of being here AND I’ve only been here a little over a day. It’s pure magic. Since I am in Bali I figured it would be wise to teach Ganesha Mudra today. Ganesha, the elephant god, is the remover of all obstacles. Statues of Ganesha abound all over Bali! Some covered in moss or lichen, others adorned with flowers or mala beads, some with incense and offerings at their feet. It’s lovely. This is my third trip to Bali. Each time my energy shifts and obstacles seem to drop away…. Ganesha at work!

hand mudra ganesha mudra

Benefits of Ganesha Mudra:

Ganesha mudra helps open the heart chakra and encourages our confidence, courage, compassion and openness. Ganesha mudra, just as with Lord Ganesha himself, helps dispel fear, so we can achieve our hearts desires. This mudra also encourages the muscles of the chest to release tension and may also stimulate activity of the heart and open the bronchial tubes.

To practice Ganesha Mudra:

Bring your left hand in front of your heart and turn your palm away from you (your thumb pointing down) and fingers bent. With your right palm facing toward you hook the fingers of your right hand with the fingers of your left hand. Elbows pointing out toward the sides. From here, with an exhale breath pull the elbows away from one another while keeping the fingers locked together (don’t let them separate). You will feel the muscles of your chest and upper arms engage. On your inhale breath release the tension. Repeat up to 8 times. You can use this mudra daily OR as needed; like when you’re feeling self doubt, fearful, or closed off from others.

Love and Light,

Autumn

How to Prepare for a Yoga Retreat

A common question from retreat attendees is “how do I prepare for a yoga retreat?” For most of us, we don’t practice yoga 2+ hours each day, let alone 5, 6, or 7 days in a row so I think there is a bit of fear and apprehension that comes into play during the lead up to a yoga retreat. Don’t sweat it. You’ll be fine whether you practice once a week or everyday…. an experienced yogi or a newbie. The following are my tips for how to prepare for a yoga retreat, whether it’s your first retreat or your hundredth!

1. Prepare for a yoga retreat by keeping your yoga practice up.

Make sure to keep your practice up and add a class or two if you have time. But most importantly keep your yoga practice balanced. If you always practice vinyasa add a yin or restorative class or vice versa. Your body will thank you when it feels strong, open, vibrant, and relaxed on retreat.

Two weeks before your retreat is not the time to start practicing headstands/handstands/advanced postures if you’ve never done them before. Trust me you don’t want to injure yourself right before your retreat. Just wait. If those postures are on the agenda at your yoga retreat you will have plenty of time to explore them in a mindful manner.

yoga surf retreat nicaragua

Warrior 3

2. Trust the process and your teacher.

Booking a yoga retreat is a pretty courageous act, especially if it’s your first retreat or with a yoga teacher you don’t practice with regularly. Assuming you’ve done a bit of research to get to know the teacher a bit better, have chatted with them on the phone or via email and connected on social media it’s time to relax. An experienced retreat leader will make sure you receive all of the necessary information before you need it.  Let go of the need to micromanage your life for just this little bit… you’re going on retreat aren’t you? Let your retreat leader guide you on your journey.

3. Be willing to put in 110%.

I’m not just talking physically here. Be willing to open up, to let go of old habits and preconceived self-limiting beliefs, to let down your walls and to connect with others. You already have a lot in common with the other people on the retreat, so be yourself and enjoy new friendships.

sunbathing-yoga-retreat-greece

Yoga babes.

4. You don’t need 20 pairs of yoga pants, your hair dryer or your makeup.

I’m completely guilty of overpacking yoga leggings and I’ve seen it many times from my students too. You don’t need as much as you think. Likely, you will end up wearing the same couple of outfits over and over simply because it’s easy. And there is no need to primp during a yoga retreat. We will happily accept you as you are. Sweaty, crazy haired, and glowing.

5. Prepare fora yoga retreat by ask yourself “What is my intention?”

Get clear about your intention or sankalpa for the retreat. What are your goals? Why are you attending a yoga retreat in the first place? Is it to deepen your yoga practice? To learn meditation? To relax and rejuvenate? To connect with yourself? To heal emotionally, physically, spiritually? Whatever your intention don’t be afraid to honor that. Sometimes honoring your sankalpa means skipping a yoga practice to sleep in or journal or walk the beach. Sometimes it means being bold and letting down all the barriers you’ve built up. Sometimes it means trying something completely new.

6. Eat mindfully, so you don’t “shock” your system.

raw-vegan-vegetarian-bali-yoga-retreat

Healthy eats! Raw vegan wraps. Yum!

Most yoga retreats have amazing, healthy meals with minimal processed food, meat, alcohol and caffeine. You can prepare for a yoga retreat by beginning to cut processed food and toxins out of your diet a week or two before the retreat. Ease your way into a new healthy radiant you.

7. Practice on your travel mat beforehand.

If you’re bringing a travel mat, or even a new mat, make sure to practice on it beforehand. A slick mat, or one that stretches in downward facing dog is annoying at best. Test it out beforehand and if it doesn’t work out pack your old standby. A “crappy” mat can make for a frustrating yoga retreat. You don’t want something as simple as a yoga mat to detract from your experience.

8. Learn about your destination.

Where are you going? What is that part of the world known for? Do you have time for extra excursions? Prepare for a yoga retreat by doing a little research beforehand. It will get you pumped up about where you’re going and it might even get your friends excited enough to tag along. Sweet!

luxury-yoga-retreat-france-dordogne

9. Set aside all expectations.

Manage your expectations. As you prepare for a yoga retreat make sure to ask your retreat leader questions about things you want clarity about…. transportation, food, excursions. Get the answers you need and want… and then let it go. The nature of retreats, especially international retreats, is that sometimes things need to change to bring the best experience to the students. Maybe the teacher has had to rearrange excursions due to whether or even swap them out completely… maybe instead of going on that jungle hike you’ll get a lovely massage instead. Don’t worry about it. The instructor wants you to love the experience as much as you want to love the experience, so roll with the punches, go with the flow, ride the wave. It will be amazing.

“To explore what it would mean to live fully, sensually alive and passionately on purpose, I have to drop my preconceived ideas of who and what I am.”

Dawna Markova

Happy Retreat Prep Yogis!!!

Love and Light,

Autumn

 

 

 

Pran Mudra

Hey yogis it’s Mudra Monday again. Pran mudra, or life mudra, is your hand mudra for the week.

pran-hand-mudra

Pran Mudra Practice:

To practice pran mudra guide your thumb to touch both your little finger and ring finger. Middle finger and index finger are extended straight. Practice this mudra with both hands. This mudra is best used in meditation and pranayama. Find a comfortable seat for meditation and pranayama and then draw your hands into the mudra and rest them on the back of your thighs/knees.

This mudra can be practiced with a very simple pranayama: Sama Vritti. Sama vritti is an equal length inhale and exhale. This pranayama can be combined with the chant of “So hum” for maximum benefit. Chant “So” on the inhale and “hum” on the exhale.

Feel free to practice pran mudra for 5-30 minutes each day.

Benefits:

Pran mudra activate muladhara bandha (our root chakra) and pelvic floor. This simple hand mudra has many benefits, for example: it increases vitality while reducing fatigue, it improves our assertiveness, self confidence, courage and ability to see things through. When combined with slow, conscious deep breaths pran mudra is calming and can help overcome nervousness.

This mudra, in addition to improving confidence and courage can also help you envision your future in accordance with your dharma. According to Anodea Judith’s book Creating on Purpose “When you act from vision, rather than what the world tells you is possible, your life becomes energized, and your vision becomes contagious to others.” It’s time to take charge and live your ideal life. If you’re not happy with your current situation I encourage you to begin a mudra practice and to also begin working with a sankalpa.

This mudra activates prana, our life force, by uniting fire, water and earth elements.

Affirmation:

I have the fortitude, confidence and courage to achieve what my heart desires.

Do you already practice pran mudra? Have you experienced its benefits? Send me a message I’d love to hear about it!

Love and Light,

Autumn